deviance & social control: women’s body hair

Hi champs! I know it’s been an age since I published a post, and my last post came with a promise to promptly write the next instalment in the France diaries but, well, if you’ve been following wildecrafted for any length of time you should know not to believe my claims that I’ll post more regularly. Life is just a bit too life-y these days…

One of the most life-y parts is university (I love it!). Anyway, I told a bunch of interested friends that I would share my essay for my Intro to Sociology unit once it had been marked, on the proviso that my tutor didn’t tell me that I’d totally missed the point and royally screwed it up. Well, he didn’t tell me that. He told me nice things about my work and gave me a lovely grade. So, my own blog feels like the best spot to share it, so here’s the essay…

Deviance and Social Control: Women’s Body Hair

By Kimberley Wilde


In 2006, fashion blogger Erin McKean wrote:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

While quoted in countless memes that continue to circulate widely on social media, McKean’s assertion is misguided. Women are, indeed, expected to present themselves according to particular norms that exemplify a socially accepted ideal of feminine beauty (Schur 1983, 66). For example, in Western cultures, women are expected to remove physiologically normal body hair to achieve a feminine aesthetic ideal, and violation of this dominant standard of beauty is considered deviant (Braun, Tricklebank and Clarke 2013; Fahs 2014). This essay will discuss the sociological concepts of deviance and social control using the example of women’s body hair. Beginning with a definition of deviance, before applying Durkheim’s functionalist theory, then contrasting with a conflict theory approach, and finishing with a brief exploration of mechanisms of social control.

Deviance, whether behavioural, physical, intentional or unintentional, is defined as any violation of social norms. Failure to adhere to norms can have significant impacts on the social acceptability of an individual or group. Labelling deviance offers dominant groups the means to define, categorise, discredit, and control others (Schur 1983, 3). Both norms and deviance are social constructs, and therefore changeable. What is perceived to be deviant in one culture, sub-culture or historical period may be the norm in other cultures, sub-cultures or historical periods (van Krieken et al. 2014, 360). For example, in mainstream Western societies women’s body hairlessness is taken for granted, however within both lesbian and feminist sub-cultures women’s body hair is more likely to be accepted as normal (Fahs 2013, 168).

Durkheim viewed deviance as necessary to the maintenance of social order (van Krieken et al. 2014, 364). He theorised that people are born into societies with existing structures and traditions, which he called social facts, and it is social facts that shape the attitudes and behaviours of individuals (van Krieken et al. 2014, 417). Durkheim saw deviance itself as a social fact, and he identified three main functions of deviance. Firstly, deviance demonstrates social boundaries and reinforces cultural values. Secondly, collective reactions to breaches of social norms serve to unify groups of people, and therefore deviance increases social cohesion. Finally, as the deviant behaviours of today become the social norms of tomorrow and vice versa, deviance can be a source of social change (van Krieken et al. 2014, 364).

In April 2015, pop star Miley Cyrus posted a photo of herself with visible armpit hair to social media (London, 2015). Journalists, celebrity commentators, fans, and critics alike shared overwhelmingly negative reactions, unifying in collective disdain for Cyrus’s breach of acceptable feminine grooming standards. This backlash served to remind Cyrus, and women generally, of the expectation that women shall obey beauty norms, or risk ostracism. However, instead of bowing to pressure to conform, Cyrus responded to criticism by dying her deviant armpit hair pink and documenting the whole process with more pictures posted to social media (Waering, 2014). Due to her celebrity status, Cyrus’s actions were performed on a public stage. Van Krieken et al. suggest that celebrities have the power to shape history (2014, 88), and a functionalist perspective would deduce that Cyrus’s recalcitrant attitude to this particular beauty norm might indeed create social change.

In contrast to functionalism, conflict theory views deviance as a means by which dominant social groups can exert power over subordinate social groups. Based on the work of Marx, conflict theory identifies norms as benefitting some at the expense of others (Ritzer and Stepnisky 2013, 273). Marx perceived economics, or class, to be the source of all social conflict. Those who own the means of production have power over the working class, and will use deviance labelling to their advantage. Unlike the functionalist approach that questions why individuals become deviant, conflict theorists question who defines, and who gains from the defining of, deviance (Eitzen 1988, 196). It is in the interests of companies that produce and sell beauty products to perpetuate mainstream beauty norms (Schur 1983, 68). These companies will continue to make significant financial gains as long as women believe they need to perform an endless list of body modifications to achieve unattainable standards of appearance.

Unlike Marx, Weber argued that social stratification is multi-dimensional. A Weberian analysis suggests that society is stratified according to class, status and party (Ritzer and Stepnisky 2014, 127). Weber’s theory of social stratification is more applicable to contemporary Western societies, and particularly to the status of women, than traditional Marxist analysis. Women may belong to different economic classes and political parties, while still sharing the same status of womanhood. In patriarchal societies the status of women is devalued, and therefore women are subservient to the dominance of men (Schur 1983, 7). Beauty norms serve to maintain the powerlessness of women, relative to men. Women cannot refuse to subscribe to dominant beauty norms without facing the negative consequences that will result (Schur 1983, 80).

Whether it is viewed from a functionalist or a conflict theory perspective, deviance is subject to social control. Social control may be internal or external. Internal social control is self-regulation, a result of socialisation. Judith Butler, a postmodern feminist philosopher, draws on Foucault’s theories of power to show that women’s choices regarding their bodies are shaped by regulative gender discourse (Ritzer and Stepnisky 2013, 474-475). Women in Western societies have been socialised to preference removing their body hair, and while many women will claim it is their personal choice, it is a choice informed by the social fact that women’s body hair is stigmatised (Fahs 2013, 170 & 173; Braun, Tricklebank, and Clarke 2013, 478). If socialisation is not enough to control deviance then sanctions, in the form of rewards and punishments, act as external control mechanisms. Fahs’s research into women’s lived experiences with body hair identified several external control mechanisms that were exerted upon women who stopped removing their body hair. These included homophobic and heteronormative comments, and anger and threats from friends, family and sexual partners (2013, 173-175). Conversely, when women conform to the norm of hairlessness they are perceived to be, and therefore treated as though they are, more sociable, intelligent, capable, and sexually attractive (Fahs 2013, 169).

In Western cultures the physiologically normal body hair of mature women is stigmatised, and its removal is normalised. Drawing on this example, this essay has defined the social constructs of deviance and social norms. Durkheim’s primary functions of deviance have been identified and applied. Then, through the lenses of conflict theories as articulated by Marx, Weber and Butler, the role of deviance in maintaining social power imbalances has been highlighted. This essay has identified the significant effects of deviance labelling on individuals and social groups, touching on the development of internal social control through socialisation, as well as introducing the processes of external social control that are commonly exercised upon deviance.


Reference List

Braun, Virginia, Gemma Tricklebank, and Victoria Clarke. 2013. “ ‘ It Shouldn’t Stick Out from Your Bikini at the Beach’: Meaning, Gender, and the Hairy/Hairless Body.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 37(4): 478-493.

Eitzen, Stanley D. 1988. “Conflict Theory and Deviance in Sport.” International Review for Sociology in Sport 23(3): 193-204.

Fahs, Breanne. 2014. “Perilous Patches and Pitstaches: Imagined Versus Lived Experiences of Women’s Body Hair Growth.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 38(2): 167-180.

London, Bianca. 2015. Miley Cyrus causes ANOTHER online backlash by revealing her armpit hair in Instagram selfie… but she’s not the only celebrity to ditch the razor.

McKean, Erin. 2006. You Don’t Have to Be Pretty.

Ritzer, George, and Jeffrey Stepnisky. 2013. Sociological Theory. 9th ed. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill.

Schur, Edwin. 1983. Labeling Women Deviant: Gender, Stigma, and Social Control. Philadelphia, USA: Random House.

Van Krieken, Robert, Daphne Habibis, Philip Smith, Brett Hutchins, Greg Martin, and Karl Maton. 2014. Sociology. 5th ed. Australia: Pearson.

Wareing, Charlotte. 2014. Miley Cyrus dyes her armpit hair pink and possibly somewhere else in latest bizarre selfie spree.

posted by wildecrafted in kimba goes to uni and have No Comments

unschool monday – weakened resolve

We moved from Wonderland at the weekend. We’re temporarily camping in the spare room at the outlaws place until we finish The Shed & can move our stuff up there (a whole 100 metres!).

Being that we were busy, we didn’t have a lot of time to really focus on the sproggets. They helped pack things & they amused themselves with the ramp up to the trailer when heavy things weren’t being loaded on it, they were involved, but we were all mostly preoccupied with moving.

Last night, when we had finally flopped in to bed after moving everything & cleaning Wonderland, The Bubble told me she needed to chat, not sleep. I asked her what she wanted to chat about.

“When I’m a big kid I can go to school.”

My heart stopped.

I believe so strongly that unschooling is the right approach for our family, and yet I know we’re not “doing it” to the best of our ability at the moment.

I know. I know. There’s no way to “do it” right but in this new town where we know no one, where there is no prominent unschooling community, where even the general homeschooling group doesn’t meet regularly for unstructured play, I have to admit I’m very worried about socialisation.

The  Bubble is lonely. She wants to play with other children. She wants to play with the same children regularly. She wants to make friends. Real friends, who know her by name, who she knows by name, friends who she can get to know.

I take them to several program days. We go to “play in the park” Tuesdays, Rhyme Time at the Library (more for Babyman’s benefit – he LOVES it) Wednesdays & Fridays, story time at the Library Thursdays, the monthly museum program for 1-5 year olds (this Wednesday is the next one) but it just doesn’t feel enough because there’s no other unschoolers there.

After the sproggets were asleep last night, with heavy hearts Bean & I spoke again about our family’s future.

We’re both in agreeance that this place doesn’t feel like the right place for our family long term. Right now, it is probably a good place, with our new plan to live (rent free) in The Shed we’ll be able to wipe our debt, which will make a huge difference to our wellbeing. We’re keeping open minds & open hearts, we’re open to the possibility of that sentiment changing, while also very much looking forward to the end of Bean’s apprenticeship.

We are looking forward to traveling, to looking for “our place”. Maybe traveling will show us that this is our place? I have a feeling I know where our place is though, & that place is not here. It’s not even close to here.

I know, wherever our place ends up being, it has to be a place where other unschoolers are easy to find. It has to be a place where the sproggets can find community, because they really, really need it. My poor, lonesome children.

While I know this isn’t enough (yet?) to kill our passion for unschooling, it’s certainly weakened my resolve. I don’t want my children to feel so lonely & isolated.

The learning is still happening, naturally. Most of the time I don’t even notice it until The Bubble makes a statement of fact & I wonder where, when & how she came to know that? Babyman’s vocabulary is expanding daily. He’s able to express his needs & wants very effectively both verbally & non-verbally.

I just wish there wasn’t such a big void where community could be.


Unschool Monday inspired by Owlet.

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comments (8)

Wilde’s in Wonderland

We have named our new home “Wonderland”. The whole property is named something else, yet we have decided to dub our part of it Wonderland because of a white rabbit that led us up the path to our home a couple of weeks ago, just after we’d signed the lease, when we brought the outlaws around to have a look.

We were driving up the bumpy, gravel driveway when we had to stop for a very white (obviously escaped domestic, not wild) rabbit in the path. The rabbit hopped off rather slowly, but we knew we were turning off the main driveway onto the track leading to our new place soon & thought it would continue along the main driveway. Just as we thought we’d be able to get past the rabbit it dashed across the front of the car & hopped up the path to our place. WONDERLAND!

So Wonderland is an owner built place on 12 acres about 15km from Albany and 40km from Denmark. A very beautiful spot. The part of the property that Wonderland is on is native bush, surrounding properties have paddocks which make good firebreaks so I feel more comfortable about having bush so close to the house. There’s 3 other houses on the same property. So far I’ve only met the caretaker, who lives closest to us, and Bean has met one of the people who live in the other house. The owners now live closer to Perth, and come to stay at the property for a few days each month. Wonderland used to be their family home. I’m told there’s quite a community aspect here. There is a shared vegie patch & there is a sweat lodge not far from the house we’re in. I’m hoping to see evidence of that soon, I’m craving a bit of community.

The house is pretty amazing. There’s a lot of little (& not so little) bits about it that I don’t like so much. There are a lot of energy guzzling downlights which can’t be changed to a lower energy light very cheaply & heaps of single glazed glass making the place cold which make it quite unsustainable, I find this challenging because we’re really keen to limit our environmental impact & I worry that we may actually use more electricity here than we did in Perth!

It’s also not as “safe” as I’d like, though we just have to learn the hazards and behave accordingly (children included). There’s decks on 2 sides of the house which get slippery when wet (which is often!) and Babyman fell backward off the lower deck into a bush yesterday morning & again off another part of the deck trying to navigate some outside stairs today. Inside, there’s stairs to a loft (baby gate already in place so that’s less of a concern now), there’s a tile fire, the kitchen is wide open which we’re not used to (getting cupboard locks for the glass containing cupboards tomorrow). I feel like I’m spending all my time at the moment saying “no” and “not safe”, or nursing an injured child. The Bubble split her lip open last evening, that was a production, she went as white as a sheet Last night she woke up in hysterics 4 times, taking at least 30 minutes to console each time, she was in a lot of pain. She was trying to ride the wheely bug from the kitchen into the sunken lounge. I’d told her so many times yesterday that the wheely bug isn’t to be at the top of steps in case it falls down the steps while someone is riding it, it always has to be on the low side because that’s safest. Each time she’d snarl at me & I’d tell her I’d take the toy away if she kept playing with it dangerously because I didn’t want to see her hurt. I put it in the lounge but last evening she got it up into the kitchen again while we were sorting out dry nappies for Babyman & she rode the it off the step at a fast pace and hurt herself. There was a lot of blood & she was clearly in shock. I suppose she had to learn the hard way though, she’s that kind of person, she often hurts herself doing things I’ve suggested she not do. I gave her a lot of homoeopathic arnica (after years of studying & practicing herbal medicine I still don’t know how much I believe in homoeopathics to be honest, but the pillules give an injured or sick child something else to think about for a short time so they’re effective as distractions if nothing else), & she eventually settled for the night with Bean in her bed cuddling & consoling her. This morning her lip looked much better already & she didn’t seem bothered by it.

Anyway, back to Wonderland… There are other things about the house that are amazing. I love the tile fire for being beautiful in the same breath that I don’t like it for its inefficiency & dangerousness! The bush surrounding the house make it a beautiful environment for a home. The loft looks out into the tree tops, which is simply beautiful and it has a window in the roof which is nice for star gazing, I will certainly do this when I build my own place although I’ll use double glazed glass. There is some beautiful stained glass about the place too. I’ll take some pictures another time & upload them to the blog, for now there’s no use because it’s night time & there is no sun streaming through the stained glass. The toilet is separate from the rest of the house (combined bathroom, laundry, toilet area) which I have wanted for ever so long because Bean is smelly! The water supply is from a spring fed dam, and is amazing to bathe in, I’ve noticed we all have softer skin & hair since being here. Dave loves it here too. There are other dogs for him to play with & with all those unsustainable windows he can see into the house well so he doesn’t feel so isolated from us when we’re inside. He needs a kennel though, he’s currently got a cardboard box with a sheepskin in it for a bed, which is warm enough now but it’ll get colder. He’s also slowly chewing the edges of it, so he’ll end up without a home soon enough at the rate he’s going!

My absolute favourite bit about Wonderland though, and this is very daggy, is that our street runs off a road called “Old School Road” – there’s a place for sale on Old School Road and if I was rich & frivolous I’d buy it just for the address (and the fact that it’s an alpaca stud & alpacas are quite awesome).

We’ve not connected with any homeschoolers down here yet, I have sent countless emails to the Albany group co-ordinator but had no response, and Bean’s spoken with her on the phone but she was pretty non-committal, & just told him to email her! I think the homeschool network in Albany is largely made up of curriculum homeschoolers, & the fact that we’re natural learners/unschoolers/life learners/whatever makes us not really fit the mould for that particular group. No matter, we’ve got a plan to write a little homeschooling “personals” note out & put it on noticeboards around Albany & Denmark calling for people to network with. If there’s a natural learning network down here I’ll find them & if there isn’t already a regular natural learners meet up in the Great Southern I’ll do my very best to get one happening!

I did run into an old friend at the petrol station last week, and she’s given me her phone number so I’d like to tee up a catch up with her. She homebirthed her children, co-slept, full term breastfed, & carried them in slings (except when performing her whip-cracking show) & though I have no idea of her approach to education (bearing in mind I’m looking for playdates during the weekdays), I always felt comfortable with the way she treated her first daughter when we hung out before I had children so I’m excited to have seen her so soon after we moved her. I knew she was living in Albany, & had hoped I’d run into her sooner or later.

It’s taking time to find our feet, and I feel like I started with my cup already empty after our stressful 2 week stay with the outlaws, so with no way of filling my cup down here yet I’m finding myself feeling pretty low and questioning the sanity of this whole move.

The children aren’t coping so well. Babyman is ok really, although he’s feeding VERY often, every time he comes near me he pokes my chest and says “more”, he’s very insistent. It’s doing my head in actually, it’s no secret how much I hate breastfeeding, and without exaggeration he’d be feeding every 20-30 minutes during the day with the longest night time breaks being about 2 hours. The Bubble is really struggling, she needs kids to play with. She’s such a social child, and she hasn’t been to a playgroup for over a month now! She’s been doing attention seeking things like drawing on the furniture & the floors after Babyman drew on the walls. She tells me she doesn’t like me, she snarls at me, she tells me her Daddy does everything better than me & that she doesn’t want me to live with her anymore, she yells & rages and then she cries, tells me she does like me and asks for a cuddle. She’s needing Bean in her bed most nights. Her bedroom is lovely, I’ve made a point of creating a safe space for her to play & relax, hers was the first room to be unpacked and set up when we moved in. She’s gradually telling me she likes her new house so I just need to organise some playtime for her.

My sister and her 2 children came to stay for a couple of nights last week, which was wonderful, the children had playmates & I had a likeminded & beautiful person to chat with, although it wasn’t really for long enough unfortunately. They have recently moved from Perth to the Margaret River region (they have lived there before) so she understands the stress of a long distance move. We ate such amazing food, my sister is a fantastic wholefoods cook & I think it’s such a treat to eat meals prepared by her. She has such a flair with flavours & she’s not afraid to try something bold, where I’m much more conservative with my cooking. It was quite inspiring.

Speaking of food, we’ve found a gorgeous little organic food store in Albany, organic fresh produce is more expensive here than we were getting it for in Perth, the prices for certified organic at the farmers markets are outright ridiculous & the other stalls don’t sell organic so it’s good to find the store which is open 6 days/week. The bulk produce is often cheaper there than in Perth. Rice is $8/kg there & it’s $10/kg minimum in Perth. The people who run it are lovely, they used to run an organic orchard in Perth & were involved with the City Farm farmer’s market from its inception. They sell Jersey bath milk that is at least 1/3 cream, some weeks it’s been 1/2 cream, it’s just divine!

Bean was officially signed up for his apprenticeship again today. No idea where he stands with Tafe stuff & how long until he’ll have his licence sorted out, but he’s getting closer to it every day obviously.

That’s about all the updating I have energy for tonight, it’s already getting late again.

posted by wildecrafted in education,home,journal and have No Comments